When you travel to a soccer game you expect to see a field with lines and two netted goals. Sometimes you’re greeted with bleachers and/or team benches. On some "elegant" fields you might encounter a clubhouse and a concession stand. City parks may offer a playground. But, for the most, part we’re happy just to see a lined field and goals. However, on occasion, we come across some truly unusual soccer curiosities that crop up now and then over the course of our children’s soccer experiences.
The best soccer fields have irrigation systems, which help maintain a smooth, velvet surface. When well-mowed, these verdant living surfaces can be wonderful to play on. That is until the irrigation system decides to kick in unexpectedly. I’ve been to two games where this happened. Without warning, these tiny seemingly benign metal nozzles pop up from the blades of grass and then explode into a harsh mist saturating the entire pitch. Depending on circumstances, this sudden shower can be refreshing, bothersome or frightening. On a hot day, it is probably some welcome relief, but overall it’s merely aggravating. It also can pose a safety hazard. I’ve seen kids suddenly trip over the spigots that appear unannounced and without water to signal their positions. I’ve heard of kids who ended up with serious injury falling on the metal outcroppings. That’s a discovery none of us wants to make.
On a particularly stormy day we had an important game southwest of Milwaukee on a field none of us had ever visited. As we watched the increasingly ominous dark clouds filling the sky, we drove to the location wondering if we would play the game at all under heavens that seemed sure to shatter open with lightning. Sure enough, as we rounded the last curve into the park the sky lit up with a sharp blast. Surprisingly, the game before ours was continuing oblivious to the danger of the storm. Again, the air cracked with a brilliant light and piercing pop of thunder. And still the game continued. Naturally we were not only puzzled, but concerned for the young players moving seemingly unaware of the chaos around them. A mother from the opposing team approached us. "Sorry about the conditions." Unless she was Thor’s proxy, I really felt there was little she could do except get those kids under shelter. "The transformer acts up now and then." She pointed to her left just as a brilliant flash escaped the metal box at the corner of the park. "Don’t worry, it’s safe…as long as you don’t get too close. The inspector assures us it’s just an internal arc that doesn’t affect service and doesn’t travel anywhere." I mentally made a measurement of how close this electrical widow-maker sat to the corner flag. How could it be safe? I actually began to pray for lightning, which I felt had to be safer than this belching box of electrons. Nevertheless, we played the game, and the natural storm never interrupted us once. The transformer "spoke" about forty times. I expected a curtain to pull back and reveal the Wizard of Oz.
Balls from nearby games often fly onto the field, interrupting the action. Players wait patiently for an appropriate break or an opening on the field before retrieving their ball. Sometimes a player on the field will take pity and kick the ball out to the pacing competitor. But what do you do when the object flying onto the field isn’t a ball but is an umbrella that escaped from the sidelines two fields over on a particularly rainy and windy day? That umbrella took on a life of its own, skittering across the field as the game continued. It seemed to know exactly where it could cause the most trouble, weaving in and out of plays like Wayne Rooney on his way to the goal. No one wanted to stop and chase it because some serious soccer continued despite the obstruction. The referee couldn’t stop the action nor could he pursue the umbrella because he had to position himself properly to oversee the game. So we all watched this ballet helpless to bring the curtain down. The temptation would be to just kick the ball out of bounds to give time to snag the umbrella but this game was closely contested and neither team wanted to give up any advantage. So for five or 10 minutes, the situation continued until just as suddenly, a sharp shift of wind sent the parasol skittering off the field … and onto the next to choreograph another dance of obstruction.
Speaking of wind, we arrived at our club fields for the first spring season game only to find that two of the portable outhouses had been upended by a storm the night before. Unfortunately they had landed on the big field. These blue plastic behemoths had to be not only righted, but carefully moved to mitigate leakage. This was no easy task because their "ballast" shifted with every move. Suddenly, everyone became structural, mechanical and hydraulic engineers offering a multitude of solutions. As the clock ticked down to the start of the game, we enlisted the help of the opposing team and parents to carefully haul the structures off the pitch. Every time I see an outhouse, I have nightmares of them toppling over and rolling unfettered onto the grass. Just three months ago, a handicap accessible potty tipped over backward at the edge of a field in Chicago. Luckily no one was "on board" and it fell away from the pitch, but I empathetically didn’t envy the people in charge of righting the building.
By its nature, soccer requires wide open stretches of flat grassy territory. With the rapid expansion of youth soccer, more and more acreage is being sought to provide playing surfaces. So it’s not surprising that fields are often far outside city limits, where cost per acre and taxes are usually lower. Pushing the boundaries further into the wilderness, soccer pioneers in Toyota Sienna wagons roll into unchartered, untamed territory in pursuit of wide-open spaces. We encroach on the wildlife that often used the fields to feed and roam. I’ve been at games invaded by turkeys, deer, geese, even a lone coyote that behaved in the superior, entitled manner of an animal in his habitat trotting onto the field, then refusing to leave. We arrived at fields so filled with goose poop that the players struggled to retain their footing. I’m sure the kids would rather have played on frigid slippery ice than gross, sloppy excrement.
On a field out in the country and bordering a cemetery, we were contentedly in the middle of a great game, when out of the tombstones wandered a cow – a holy cow. Anyone in Wisconsin knows that cows are not the brightest animals on earth. They may live in herds, but they resist being herded. In the middle of an electrical storm they head to the biggest tree in the otherwise empty field tempting Vulcan’s arrows. They are docile, stubborn and deliberate in their movement. So getting a cow off the soccer field requires more than a red cape or yelling "Yee Hah." Soccer fields are wonderful for grazing, so no hungry cow relinquishes that moveable feast quickly or easily. At least that’s what we discovered. Here’s what we tried: "Yee Hah" – okay you knew we had to try it, placing a rope (actually a series of bungee cords) around its neck and tugging, a few brave (a farmer would say stupid) souls tried to push from behind, someone even had the brilliant idea to turn on the irrigation system, and, of course, the proverbial carrot and stick, except it was an apple and a golf club. None of these worked. The cow just meandered across the lawn, totally unperturbed by a thing we were doing. As we were contemplating having to forfeit the game, a pick-up truck hauling a wagon backed into the parking lot and the driver hopped out of the cab with a fly swatter. Opening the door of the wagon and lowering a ramp, he made a great show of the action with as much noise as possible. The cow raised her head, looked over to him, and began to lumber towards the truck. The driver walked over beside the cow, flicked the fly swatter on her flanks, and she began to trot to the parking lot. Within five minutes he had her inside the wagon where she stood munching on a crib of hay. "Sorry," was all he said. Then like a mystery superhero, he disappeared into the mist leaving us all to wonder what our next soccer field phenomenon might be.